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‘West Side’ is an SA success story

Published Aug 4, 2015


West Side Story

DIRECTOR: Matthew Wild

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CAST: Jonathan Romouth, Lynelle Kenned, Christopher Jaftha, BIance le Grange, Stephen Jubber, Michele la Trobe, Daniel Richards, Adrian Galley, Nicky Rebelo

VENUE: Artscape Theatre

UNTIL: August 23

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RATING: ****

The Fugard Theatre production team have realised a spectacular version of West Side Story at Artscape.

Using every aspect Artscape’s stage is capable of, they have taken Johan Engels’s design ideas and made them sparkle. A car rides onto the stage, three-storey high stairwells move on and off, an entire basement is revealed, starry lights fill up the heavens.

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The entire huge stage is a wide open pit at the beginning, and when they open the back, you see it is even bigger than you realised and your jaw drops just a little more.

West Side Story being a 1950s Romeo & Juliet story set in Lower East Side New York, everyone (credibly) speaks in American accents and the beautiful costuming greatly adds to the creation of the time period.

Jonathan Roxmouth is Tony, the erstwhile member of the Jets gang who is drawn back into violence when he falls for Maria (Kenned), the sister of the leader of the Sharks.

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Roxmouth’s voice is as always utterly beguiling – compared to the rest of the cast, probably because he is older, his Tony comes across as world-weary.

Kenned creates a sweet Maria and her voice is a match for that of Roxmouth.

Charl-Johan Lingenfelder’s musical direction has freshened up the musical cues (though the score is still original) and Kenned unexpectedly dropping into her rendition of I Feel Pretty is a highlight.

Other than Maria, (almost unrecognisable) Bianca le Grange’s Anita is the other most strongly realised female character with her actions precipitating the last final violent scene. She also totally nails her solos..

While the leads have the space to create strong characters – helped along a lot by our assumptions from having watched the film – the rest of the cast are not as individual, but work most strongly when they are acting as their respective gangs, which is perhaps the point. They not only find strength and safety in the gangs, but also expression and identity, which is expressed in their movement.

This is a musical about people, and specifically violent people, so the staging is a wonderfully big enough space to get the full gangs fighting through dance.

Louisa Talbot’s choreography makes of the sinuous Jets and the suspicious Sharks two distinct groups of people. The race-inspired sparring between the Puerto Rican Sharks and white Jets makes for what we may now interpret as twee and unnecessary comments, but is biting and hurtful to the people on the stage. A scene in which the Jets lampoon officer Krupke (Richard Lothian) takes on a very macabre and dark tone in this version.

This is a wonderfully realised, really huge production that dazzles on a visual level and reminds us that wholly South African productions can be even more wonderful that international imports.

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